Dressing for Professional Success


The campaign was launched in 2014 by the White House in an effort to prevent sexual assault on college campuses by asking students to change their own attitudes and practice bystander intervention.

Alexandra McCray

Thinking about what to say during an interview or nailing it on your first day of a new job can be nerve wracking enough, but trying to figure out how to dress appropriately can be a whole other task in itself.

Building a work wardrobecropped circle

The first step is building an appropriate work wardrobe. Going from dressing purely for comfort to completely overhauling your wardrobe to outfits appropriate for a job can seem like a very daunting task. However breaking outfits down to the essentials and basics will make it a much easier beast to tackle.

  • Invest in comfortable shoes. A good pair of neutral shoes that can go with any outfit and that are also comfortable to spend all day in will make getting dressed in the morning a whole lot easier.
  • Spend the money on a good quality and durable work bag. Whatever your gender, chances are you will be bringing at least something to and from the office each day. Nothing ruins a professional outfit like throwing on the Jansport backpack you’ve had since ninth grade to carry all those documents you need to look over in. This would be a great thing to ask for as a birthday, Christmas or graduation present.
  • Focus on the basics and buy nice but affordable versions of them. For women, well-fitted black pants, a blazer, crisp button downs and a classic pencil skirt are a few of the basic pieces to have on hand. For men, khakis, tailored dress pants, neutral button downs and a go-to tie work well.
  • Spend your money where people can tell. If you really want to splurge on an item for your work wardrobe make it a piece that will make a splash, like a bold and bright dress or a “power” tie. Neutral colored pants and button downs don’t need to be expensive because if they’re fitted right no one will be able to tell the difference. People often think that fabric and texture give away inexpensive clothing, which can be true, but proper fitting is usually the tell tale sign and can make even the most expensive outfit look cheap.
  • Once you’ve built your work wardrobe, which will take time, take care of your clothes. Dry clean only really does mean dry clean only. You’ll thank yourself in the long run when your clothes last for years and still look great.

Levels of professional dressProfessionalDress8

There are three basic levels of dressing professionally: business formal, business professional and business casual.
1. Let’s start from the top. Business formal should be the crème de la crème of your wardrobe. Business formal for men usually includes a conservative colored suit with a nice dress shirt, silk tie and dress shoes. This is the type of outfit you would also wear to a semi-formal or formal event like a wedding. For women, any type of suit or knee-length skirt or dress that covers the shoulders and is not revealing with small heels is perfectly appropriate.
2. Business professional is right in between business formal and business casual and is usually required in more conservative professions like finance or politics. For men it entails dress pants with a blazer or sports jacket with a button down and an optional tie. For women it is basically the same as business formal.
3. Business casual is what is most often worn at entry level positions. For men it includes khaki pants or slacks with a polo, collared shirt, long sleeve button down or sweater with loafers. For women it is usually dress pants or a skirt with a button down shirt, blouse, or sweater with dress shoes heels or boots.

Dressing for an interview

When dressing for a job interview be sure to do research not just about the company you are interviewing for, but also what kind of atmosphere that company has within its office. Once you know that you will be able to figure which of the three levels of professional dress you should wear to the interview.
Also remember that it’s perfectly fine to dress for the job you want (a.k.a your dream job) and not the job you have (or hope to have). A three-piece suit for an entry level position may be a little much but there is nothing wrong with adding that extra flair that makes you stand out professionally.
Break in your interview outfit a few days before the actual interview. Make sure you feel comfortable wearing it and that everything fits the way it’s supposed to.
Once interview day arrives, be sure to make the rest of your appearance look as tidy as your outfit. For women, keep your make-up light and minimal, showcase your natural beauty and also keep accessories to a minimum along with your hairstyle; nothing needs to be elaborate. For men, freshly shaven is always the way to go along with a neat and trim haircut. Be sure to keep perfumes and colognes to a minimum as well so they are not offensive to your interviewer.
Once you’ve nailed the job interview, landed the job and mastered the art of dressing for work, continue to dress for success and even branch out and find your own personal professional style.